The works below are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and ©2012 Gregory Weaver.
It’s really interesting when gigs just sort of fall into your lap. For instance, the other night I was at a going away dinner party for my friend who is moving to Washington. I was the first one at the restaurant, and the couple that came in after me and I were able to chat for a good while before anyone else showed up. Turns out I didn’t know anyone else who came so I stuck to talking to them for the evening. More importantly, it turns out that they’re to be wed in the spring and they still needed to hire a group to play music at their reception. Bam, wedding gig GETS on complete happenstance.
Relevant to the blog, last month my girlfriend was on Tumblr and saw a post by this baker she follows, Ant Roman. Ant bakes unbelievably incredible-looking goods under the guise of Nerdache Cakes. I’ll wait here while you pick up your slack jaw, call your friends, and possibly order something.
Ant had put out a want ad for a composer to write theme music for her upcoming series of instructional videos on YouTube. Naturally, I jumped on that chance right away. A chance to write theme music for a show that’s likely to be viewed by thousands? Heck yes I’m gonna do it!
Luckily I was the first one to contact Ant. I sent her my SoundCloud page and she responded by granting me a spot on her team. In case you explore her various social media platforms and were wondering, she’s just as hilarious on e-mail as she is on any of those pages.
Her request was for chip music. Aside from having listened to uber amounts of the stuff in my childhood and rocking out to Inverse Phase and Anamanaguchi in my adulthood, I had no experience in creating the stuff. But, I said I would do it because, really, I have always wanted to have an excuse to write chiptunes.
Before I continue, I have a bit of a disclaimer: I reckon that what I actually wrote would not, by any means, be called chiptunes by actual chiptune composers. I don’t have any kind of means of producing actual NES bleepbloops that I know of; instead, I have Logic, which has a synth that can produce the sounds of different kinds of waveforms and a plug-in that “crushes” those waves so that their timbre sounds more like those noises from the 8- and 16-bit systems of yesteryear (or maybe even yesterday if you’ve got one plugged in). One day I aspire to study the ways of actual chip hipness; for now, I’ll roll with the Logic sounds.
Regardless, I did the best I could with what I had, and I am pleased with the results! There are two versions of the theme: the actual finalized theme and an uncut/extended version that is also a tad slower. Also, the video has yet to be released, but I will post it when it hits the interwebs (or if you’d rather, go ahead and subscribe to the Nerdache Cakes YouTube channel—you’ll be entered to win something on the video’s premiere date if you do!):
Nerdache Cakes Theme_Final (SoundCloud):
Original Draft/Extended Cut (SoundCloud):
I have never found it particularly easy to orchestrate a group of sounds with which I have no prior composing experience. Under normal circumstances I would at least have been working with a couple of instruments or sounds in a group that I have worked with in the past. For example, when writing “Gumshoes,” bassoon was my odd man out since I, for one, had never penned anything using the instrument before and, for two, have devoted little time to listening to tunes that feature the bassoon (even though I really like the sound of it). The latter was not the case with writing this tune, despite me having dreamt of themes using chiptune sounds for years on end. However, there is just something about starting from scratch to try and weave those new-yet-familiar sounds together into a beautiful tapestry of music that is difficult. Well, weaving a whole tapestry might be too extreme, really, because even just fitting two squares together in a greater musical quilt is hard when both of those squares are ones that have a thread type that’s a bit alien. Sure, I can plunk out some decent melodies thinking about a single voice in the mix, but then when I start to explore fleshing out the backgrounds and countermelodies, dictating the way the new sounds interact with each other is challenging. Not to mention, in working with electronic waves as instruments, I don’t really know yet how to create all of the sounds that I remember having heard in games of yore, so I was limited even further with what I could achieve.
As for something that I learned in this endeavour aside from learning to play with new sounds… I cannot stress the importance of the percussive element in this tune, and I am sure you can hear why. Having committed to the short version as the final, the extended cut, having the drive via the “drum” noise come in significantly later than in the final, just sounds too empty for far too long to me now. I could see the delay working in a situation where I had to make music for something less exciting in the beginning and then really ramp up the goods at a certain point, but for a short theme, it was best to just cut to the chase right away.
If I remember correctly, writing the tune, producing it, and warping what I needed to for the edit took about six hours. Not bad for a day’s work, if I do say so myself! I look forward to writing another chiptune-like piece and to getting comfortable with and learning about the medium as I continue working in it. Let me know what you think in the comments below!